Portrait painters create visual representation of individual people, distinguished by references to the subject's character, social position, wealth, or profession.
Portrait painters often strive for exact visual likenesses. However, although the viewer's correct identification of the sitter is of primary importance, exact replication is not always the goal. Artists may intentionally alter the appearance of their subjects by embellishing or refining their images to emphasize or minimize particular qualities (physical, psychological, or social) of the subject. Viewers sometimes praise most highly those images that seem to look very little like the sitter because these images are judged to capture some nonvisual quality of the subject.
Portraits can include only the head of the subject, or they can depict the shoulders and head, the upper torso, or an entire figure shown either seated or standing. Portraits can show individuals either self-consciously posing in ways that convey a sense of timelessness or captured in the midst of work or daily activity. During some historical periods, portraits were severe and emphasized authority, and during other periods artists worked to communicate spontaneity and the sensation of life.